Melanie Raabe. The Trap. Canada: House of Anansi Press, 2016.
This German writer sets her debut book in Munich. Housebound for eleven years but a highly successful novelist, Linda Conrads sees a journalist on television and recognizes him as the man who murdered her sister Anna. And also indirectly caused her own isolation. Until now, she knew only his face; the police never solved the case. Did the police even believe that she witnessed the killer? Linda pens a new book, a murder mystery out of character for her, thinly disguising the real events of Anna's death in an elaborate effort to trap this Victor Lenzen. Her alter-ego is Sophie, whose sister dies. Linda's mantra is the way out of fear leads through fear.
Pages from Linda's book alternate with reality around her. The clever device sucks us in until we wonder which version is the reality. In other words, not everything is as it seems ... the hallmark of a good suspense writer. Linda is mentally fragile in some ways; she has guilt that she couldn't prevent Anna's death. Her retreat from the outside world becomes clearer as she struggles with depression and panic attacks. Clues to the truth are scattered here and there, but so are false clues. Confrontation with Lenzen is inevitable. Page-turner, yes!
"In real life, a woman like that would be unbearable." (131)
I am overcome by the fear of being stark raving mad. (182)
It's his truth—his skewed, distorted, cobbled-together, self-righteous truth. (263)
"A book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us," he says in an almost accusatory tone.
"Kafka," I say. (45)
"The book is an axe, Norbert."
He looks at me, suspicious, then shrugs his shoulders. With a single look I try to say all the things I can't put into words. I scream: I'm terribly frightened, I don't want to die, I need someone to talk to, I'll drop down dead if he leaves now, I feel like the loneliest person on the planet.
My publisher says goodbye with a smack on each cheek. I watch him disappear into the night. I don't want him to go. I want to tell him everything—about the earthquake, about Anna. I want to tell him my plans. He's my last chance—the safety of the shore, my anchor. I open my mouth to call out to him, but I can no longer see him. It's too late; he's disappeared, cast off.I'm on my own. (46)
I work out hard. I enjoy the pain during the last round of weight-lifting—that burning, screeching feeling that tells me that I am still alive, after all. My body remembers different things from my brain: walks in the woods and aching calves; nights of dancing and sore feet; jumping in a pool on a hot day and the way your heart seizes up before it decides to carry on beating. My body reminds me what pain feels like. And it reminds me what love feels like—dark and crimson and confusing. I realise what a long time it is since I last touched anyone, or since anyone touched me. (65-6)
I have to find out what happened on that goddamn night, and I have to hear it from his own mouth. The thought of Kerner and his DNA samples reassures me. He is my safety net. I'm going to get Lenzen. One way or another. (76)
I feel his fear—the fear he feels for himself, but more than anything else the fear he feels for his daughter. It's written all over his face.That face. I notice again that he has a sprinkling of freckles. I can imagine what he must have looked like as a little boy—before life, before the wrinkles. Interesting wrinkles. I catch myself thinking that I'd like to touch his face, just to know what it feels like. I remember my beautiful grandma and her lovely lined face. Lenzen's face would feel different beneath my fingers—firmer.I brush the thought aside. What am I doing? I'm like a child at the zoo who wants to stroke the tiger even though she's quite old enough to know that it would tear her limb from limb.Get a grip on yourself, Linda.I mustn't let myself get carried away by my pity. (154-5)
Linwood Barclay. Parting Shot. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2017.
So reliable, this author, and always full of surprises! Stand-alone, but with repeat characters P.I. Cal Weaver (first person narrator) and Promise Falls policeman Barry Duckworth (third person perspective) wherein two separate problems challenge them unbeknownst to each other. Weaver is hired to protect a spoiled teenager from threats of revenge after a highly-publicized car accident; anonymity for young Jeremy seems impossible in a world where cyber-bullying is endemic. Brian, victim of the oddest crime, innocently activates a string of murders. Duckworth more than has his hands full with that while Weaver contends with Jeremy's materialistic mother Gloria and her entourage, which turns into something much more dangerous.
Duckworth encounters elder abuse; tattoo artists; fathers and sons; the horrendously scarred victim of an unknown sadist. He's dismayed to find his own son Trevor as a potential witness of a killer. One father manages to commit a vigilante act without crossing anyone's radar. Weaver is beset with doubts about Jeremy's recent past. We expect the two detectives (who are acquaintances) to find a connection between their mushrooming problems and meet, but it comes late. It's such a pleasure to sink into Barclay's world of Promise Falls, NY, and match wits with a master story-teller. Admittedly, I love the dialogue-driven characters. Always recommended!
It was like a cancer, all this social media shaming. (195)
You'd think, a town the size of Promise Falls, one forensics team would be enough. (274)
"I'm not a bodyguard, Jeremy. I'm a detective." (326)
"You looked scared to me."
"Yeah, right. I'm fucking shaking in my boots."
"Fine," I said. Look, I know the whole world's been calling you a big baby and you want to show them you're not. I get that. But the fact is, a little bit of fear is a good thing. It makes you smarter. It makes you pay attention. Now, all I'm hired to do is have a look at your level of security, and right now I'd say it's zero. A good portion of the blame goes to you and your mother for being too free with what you say online. You might as well have put a billboard on your grandmother's front lawn advertising your arrival. Part of you wants to bust out and party, but part of you knows you may actually be in danger. That's what I saw when I looked at you on the porch."
Jeremy didn't say anything for several seconds. "Maybe. But only a little." (90)
"The two of you work together a lot?" I asked.
"We've done a few deals," Broadhurst said, smiling. He had a hand on Bob's shoulder. "Just doing what I can to make Bob here a rich man. Isn't that right, Bob?"
Bob offered up a smile as genuine as a spray-on tan. He said, "Last year Galen bought several blocks in downtown Albany. It's part of a proposal for some new state government offices."
"Well," I said. "I'm sure it's all over my head."
"I would imagine so," Broadhurst said. He reached out a hand to Bob for a farewell shake, but did not bother with me.
He got in behind the wheel of the Porsche, fired it up, then eased it into first and pulled away from the curb. We listened to the car work its way through the gears until it reached the end of the street, turned, and disappeared.
Bob said, "He's kind of an asshole."
"Thanks for telling me," I said. (121)
He stopped to dig a tissue from his pocket and dab the tears that continued to puddle from his eyes.
All he'd ever wanted was to be somebody.
No, not just somebody. He wanted to be somebody better. Somebody better than his brother and his sister. Somebody better than his judgmental father. Somebody who made a difference, somebody who would be talked about for years to come.
He'd come so close to that.
He felt an aching sadness wash over him. What he wished right now, was that he was home. That he was curled up on the couch in the basement under a blanket, knees pulled up to his chest, in front of the TV. (395)
Val McDermid. Out of Bounds. UK: Little, Brown, 2016.
The natural nosiness of DCI Karen Pirie of Scotland's Historic Cases Unit is way out of bounds when she refuses to accept a current case as a suicide. It's typical of the stubborn and successful cop –smoothly defying her nemesis boss ACC Simon Lees. The gunshot death of inoffensive Gabriel Abbott leads back to the intriguing death of his mother twenty years earlier, a case that does fall within her purview. Pirie is convinced that the bombing of a small plane had more to do with personal motives than a terrorist attack, but collecting the circumstantial evidence is a long, hard slog. Then a deadly car accident produces a connection to another cold case. Karen tolerates the clumsy ways of her assistant Jason.
The evidence in both cases is very much about family trees and DNA. Karen's female colleagues feature well in assisting her, not only with forensic advice but also moral support in her struggle to get past the death of her beloved partner Phil. There's a nice little sidebar about Syrian immigrants. As to be expected from McDermid, women are the most interesting characters and their usage of Scots idioms is fun. But the author's contention that the "system of [Scottish] parish records" is so superior to England's should have clarified that she very likely meant online access at Scotland's People. In one case, a last ditch witness statement appears out of the blue, a little too convenient for cinching Karen's theory.
"I want the right answer, not the easy one." (163)
"She gave me enough straw to start making bricks." (256)
"A transplanted organ retains its donor's DNA." (353)
But she never ceased to be amazed at the lengths apparently respectable people would go to in order to keep the aspidistra flying. (374)
"What am I? Google Buddy?" (159)
Clearly the Swinging Sixties had passed her by. But then, in parts of Scotland the sixties hadn't started until 1979. (277)
" ... And I'm presuming you got the lab to run DNA?"
"Well, it's routine now." Sergeant Torrance didn't sound like a man who thought that was a good use of Police Scotland's budget.
"I'm guessing that's why you're calling me?"
"Aye. We got a hit on the DNA database. I don't pretend to understand these things, but it wasn't a direct hit. Well, it couldn't have been, because it ties in with a twenty-year-old murder and this lad's only seventeen." The rustle of paper. "Apparently it's what they call a familial hit. Whoever left his semen all over a rape murder victim in Glasgow twenty years ago was a close male relative of a wee Dundee gobshite called Ross Garvie." (21)
"So because we've got a leak that you clearly know about but have done nothing to plug, the department's going to be stuck with a massive legal bill?" The burn of self-righteous anger was a feeling Lees had always enjoyed.
Karen rolled her eyes. "It's pretty obvious there's a leak. I know it's not coming from me and I'd stake my pension that DC Murray isn't sneaking round talking to journalists behind my back. So it must be coming from admin or the forensics division out at Gartcosh. Neither of which is my responsibility."
"Be that as it may, you should have reported your suspicions to me." Lees glared at her. It wasn't often he got Karen Pirie on the back foot and he was happy to make the most of it. (73)
Her only weakness:
In the grip of strong emotion, Karen struggled to express what she needed to say. "We don't talk about Phil to outsiders. It's nothing to do with them." She wanted to howl at him that Phil was hers and nobody else's, but she knew that would make her sound deranged so she held back. "We don't talk about him to strangers," she said instead, forcing her voice level.
Jason's face was wounded. "We don't talk about him to each other," he said, his voice cracking. "You won't talk about him to me and I don't have anybody else to talk to about him. It was just the three of us on the old team and you won't share. It's really hard, boss." His lower lip trembled.
She didn't want to hear this. He was right, she wouldn't share. She shouldn't have to. Phil had been hers, the only one who had ever been hers. (92)
"See, if you saw inside their bedrooms, you'd think we had a visit from extreme burglars. Totally shan. My mum would give me a skelp if I left my room like that." (95)